Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885. Oil on canvas, 82 x 114 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Munch and Van Gogh: The parallels drawn between two great artists

One Norwegian and one Dutch, the lives of Munch and Van Gogh draw many parallels, in particular with regards to their stylistic and artistic ideals. Both artists tried, and in turn succeeded to break free from the confines of the art world as well as the predefined concepts of artistic movements such as Impressionism and Classicism. On the surface their similarities are plentiful, but what can be found by delving deeper into their lives?

Their art has been described as colourful, intense, expressive, and radical. They broke away from conventions to create emotionally-charged, unique, and innovative art, all the while creating a lasting legacy of their talents.

Edvard Munch, Spring Ploughing, 1916. Oil on canvas, 84 x 109 cm. Munch Museet, Oslo.
Edvard Munch, Spring Ploughing, 1916. Oil on canvas, 84 x 109 cm. Munch Museet, Oslo.

Both artists endured personal struggles throughout their lives with Van Gogh’s in particular leading to an early demise. These struggles did however come to benefit them in some way; consciously or not, their experiences influenced their creations and more often than not, for the better.

Munch and Van Gogh were both known for painting what they saw and the reality of life. Nothing is more real than life itself. They portrayed depictions of the everyday; everyday hardships and everyday activities such as eating (The Potato Eaters, Van Gogh) and ploughing the fields (Spring Ploughing, Munch). Munch said “in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself”, something which is also apparent in Van Gogh’s art. They both attempted to convey meaning from the mundane everyday as well as the bigger concerns in their lives.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885. Oil on canvas, 82 x 114 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885. Oil on canvas, 82 x 114 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Their personal struggles ranged from poverty and family disputes to more psychological issues such as mental illness. Munch dealt with psychological themes in his art as his sister had suffered from mental illness since childhood. His close connection to the topic is akin to Van Gogh’s although arguably on a different level. Van Gogh lived through his personal psychological demons, was admitted to various asylums, and is infamously-known for cutting off his own ear. These issues have penetrated his art just as those faced by Munch penetrated his.

Contemporaries, they never ran into each or met face to face although they both lived in Paris at similar times. Paris is a city that marked them both personally and artistically. They both drew inspiration from the French capital as seen in Van Gogh’s various paintings of the Seine and Montmatre as well as Munch’s landscapes, in particular the well-renowned balcony scene of Rue Lafayette.

We cannot be sure though that they did not know of each other’s existence during this time. Munch however spoke of Van Gogh many years after his death as his notoriety continued to spread “During his short life, Van Gogh did not allow his flame to go out. Fire and embers were his brushes during the few years of his life, whilst he burned for his art. I have thought and wished – in the long term, with more money at my disposal than he had – to follow in his footsteps.”

Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889. Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889. Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

It seems that his wish has, in a way, been granted, the comparisons and similarities between the artists are being explored in an exhibition entitled Munch: Van Gogh. After three months on display at the Munch Museet in Olso, Munch: Van Gogh will open at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on the 25th of September, respectfully gracing the homelands of both these distinguished artists.

Don’t forget to grab yourself a copy of Parkstone International’s monographs on Munch and Van Gogh to find out more about their lives and the evolution of their style. Renowned for their masterpieces, The Starry Night and The Scream, these artists have certainly made their mark on the art world.

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